If the endless articles about who is the best quarterback in the NFL have taught me anything, it's to avoid these comparative articles at all cost. Inevitably, no matter the logic and no matter the sound case to be made, you either believe that it's Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and nothing said will sway you from that belief.
Yet here I am, knee deep in the NHL's version of who is the best quarterback. I find myself a reluctant participant dragged into the fray after reading this opinion-based article by Andrew: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/119162-let-the-truth-be-told-ovechkin-or-crosby
I will start this article with a pretty simple comparison. On my left is a player who has a stat line over three years that reads (223GP - 154G - 131A - 285P). On my right is a player whose stat line over those same three years reads (200GP - 85G - 231A -316P).
Now as you read this article you either sit on the side of the fence that believes the guy with 154 goals is the best player because of his scarily good ability to put the puck in the net, or you believe that the player with more points in fewer games is the better player because he clearly sees the ice better and is able to make the players around him better.
I would then ask if it makes any difference in your decision if I told you that the player who scored 85 Goals in that span also led his team to the Stanley Cup finals as captain?
My guess is that it probably wouldn't. Like so many who are passionate about sports, you probably made up your mind long ago. Since I likely can't change your mind, allow me to at least tell you the names of the players involved. If you chose the goal scorer over the point-producing playmaker, then you have just selected Pavel Bure as a better player than Wayne Gretzky. The stats above are from '92-'94 when Pavel was lighting the world on fire with goal scoring prowess.
Oddly enough, I don't see very many "Bure was better than Gretzky" articles populating the B/R community.
Andrew attempts to argue that Crosby has benefited from playing on a superior team, so his numbers are inflated. He even goes so far as to try and use Hossa as a reason that Crosby's numbers went up. Clearly Andrew forgot that, playoff numbers aside (which don't count in the totals), Hossa went down with a knee injury shortly after coming to Pittsburgh last year and played less than 10 games with Crosby in the regular season.
Clearly using Hossa was a bit of a stretch, but I suppose it certainly sounded better than using Gary Roberts, Colby Armstrong, Pascal Dupius, Maxime Talbot, Miroslav Satan, and was that Matt Cooke I saw out there last week on his wing?
I would argue that the Penguins are a superior team not because of the talent running through their roster, but rather because the offensive players in Pittsburgh learned to play defensive hockey. That is why they made that run through the playoffs last year and that is especially why they are struggling this year. Malkin and Crosby have proved that scoring isn't enough on its own. If the Pens could get back to playing sound fundamental defense again, they might see their fortunes in the standings improve.
Andrew makes his next point that Ovechkin makes the players around him better. An odd point to make considering, he slagged the players on the Capitals roster in the paragraph prior as being inferior. He contends that the guy who stick handles around the defenseman and slides the pass across the ice to the player waiting in the open for the one-timer is the guy inflating the other persons stats. It's hard for me to argue that reasoning. As far back as I can remember, an assist and a goal were worth one point each.
If anything, the best players in the NHL are the ones that see the ice, anticipate the flow of the game, and find the open player without turning the puck over. These are all things Andrew acknowledges that Crosby does better, yet somehow he comes to the conclusion that because Ovechkin is a great finisher he is inflating the stats.
The last argument that Andrew puts forth is questioning each player's worth considering where they are currently in the standings as they relate to the playoffs. I find this to be the biggest hole in Andrews argument because as he states right off the top of his own article....the numbers don't lie.
Yes, it's true that the Penguins are out of playoff contention right now and the Capitals are second. Perhaps Andrew needs to be reminded that since the league screwed with the schedule to influence divisional play the Southeast Division has put someone in the finals three times in the last six years it was played. The Southeast Division has been littered with weak teams, so the best team in that division is effectively given 24 games a year against inferior teams (mercifully the league finally attempted to correct that this season by moving to 18 games against your own division).
You also have to assume that it doesn't hurt having the league guarantee the winner of that division a top three seed no matter the record.
Do you honestly believe that any team in the Southeast Division would even make the playoffs if they played in the much tougher Atlantic? In fact, let's openly ponder Ovechkin's goal totals if he were to play 18 games a year against Fluery, Broduer, Lundquist and Dipetro. No one can say for sure, but I have to believe it's not unreasonable to expect that the totals would go down.
Last season, the Capitals needed every last game to catch a reeling Carolina hurricanes team down the stretch. If last season was Ovechkin playing at his best—and the Hart/Richard/Person/Art Ross trophies would suggest he was at his best—and the Capitals just eeked into the playoffs, then surely Ovechkin having a less fantastic year this year and the team flying into second place in the conference is all the proof you need to dispute that Alexander Ovechkin is not the only reason that his team is doing so well.
For the record, the Atlantic Division is set to put three-of-four teams into the playoffs for the second straight year.
To be honest, I was the biggest Lemieux fan there ever was. I believe that Gretzky was a fraud and if Lemieux was healthy his entire career everyone else would have been able to see what I already knew....that he was the best.
Thankfully, when Crosby and Ovechkin came into the league I was able to enjoy each for what they brought to the game. Ovechkin for his goal-scoring prowess and childlike enthusiasm during each shift...Crosby for his methodical approach to the game and his ability to make me pause and rewind sometimes three or four times in a single game just to see that play again. They are both world-class talents and I am able to enjoy the on-ice product the NHL has given us in recent years far more than I did as a die-hard Pens fan.
I circle the Penguins-Capitals games on my calender and look forward to the matchup for days. Obviously, my nod goes to Crosby. He has accomplished more in such a short time, and I believe that his on-ice body of work will, in time, reveal that he was the second coming of Wayne Gretzky and that Alexander Ovechkin was really just Pavel Bure version 2.0.
Or, rather, Pavel Bure perfected.
At the end of the day, though, as a Penguins fan who has lived through countless Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning debates, I really only know this:
As long as the Penguins win a Stanley Cup or two with Sidney Crosby hoisting the cup at center ice, I really don't care who likes him or thinks he is the best. I would suspect that most Capitals fans feel the same way about their guy.